Chances are, if you live in the U.S. and Europe, you may not have heard of camu camu (Myrciaria dubia, sometimes also referred to as cacari and camocamo), a small orange-red fruit, similar in size to that of a large cherry, with a tart flavor. The camu camu tree grows along Amazonian riverbanks in South America, and due to rapid perishability, you’re not likely to find it at the supermarket.
You can, however, find it in powder and tablet form, the former of which can be added as a light flavoring to various foods and beverages. As information about the nutritional composition of camu camu is becoming more widely available, demand has started to grow. As noted in a 2015 systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine:1
“The presence of inflammation can contribute to an accelerated aging process, the increasing presence of comorbidities, oxidative stress, and an increased prevalence of chronic pain. As patient-centered care is embracing a multimodal, integrative approach to the management of disease, patients and physicians are increasingly looking to the potential contribution of natural products.
Camu camu, a well-researched and innovative natural product, has the potential to contribute, possibly substantially, to this management paradigm. The key issue is to raise camu camu's visibility through increased emphasis on its robust evidentiary base and its various formulations, as well as making consumers, patients, and physicians more aware of its potential.”
A Vitamin C Powerhouse
Camu camu is perhaps most well-known for its vitamin C content, which exceeds even that of acerola cherries, which I personally grow at my home. Research suggests camu camu can contain anywhere from 1,882 to 2,280 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per 100 grams of fresh fruit.2
Acerola cherries, which come in at a close second, typically contain around 1,680 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams. Kiwi, another fruit noted for its vitamin C content, contains less than 93 mg per 100 grams, and both lemons and oranges contain just 53 mg per 100 grams.
As the fruit ripens, vitamin C content starts to diminish, though, so where the fruit is available in its raw form, it’s often eaten before fully ripened. This, however, will impact its flavor, as maximum flavor emerges when the fruit is fully ripe. Vitamin C is an important immune booster and helps defend against viral attacks and inflammation.
As such, camu camu is hailed for its ability to ameliorate ailments such as cold sores, herpes, shingles, cold and flu. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, which means your body doesn't store it. And, unlike most other mammals, humans do not have the ability to make vitamin C, which means you need to get it from your diet.
Vitamin C is also an essential cofactor in enzymatic reactions. In this way, it plays a role in your body's production of collagen, carnitine (which helps your body turn fat into energy), and catecholamines (hormones made by your adrenal glands). Vitamin C is also used by your body for wound healing, repairing and maintaining the health of your bones and teeth, and plays a role in helping your body absorb iron.3
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also helps block some of the damage caused by DNA-damaging free radicals. Over time, free radical damage may accelerate aging and contribute to the development of heart disease and other health conditions. It's through this antioxidant effect that it's thought vitamin C may play a role in protecting heart health.
Other Nutritional Facts
Potassium, required for healthy heart and kidney function
Manganese: An excellent source of manganese, camu camu provides over 100 percent of your daily value per 100 grams of fresh fruit
Copper: Each 100 grams of fresh fruit provides about 10 percent of your daily value of copper
Carotenoids such as lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye and brain health
Flavonoids, primarily quercetin and kaempferol derivatives, the former of which has been shown to have very potent antiviral activity; 100 grams of fresh fruit contains about 400 mg of quercetin
Valine, an essential amino acid needed for the prevention of muscle breakdown. It’s also important for healthy function of your nervous system and supports cognitive function
Leucine, another essential amino acid needed for healthy muscle and bone growth and recovery. It’s also needed for the production of growth hormones
Serine, an amino acid that plays an important role in digestion, as it helps break down protein and polypeptide bonds
Gallic acid, which has antioxidant, antiviral and antifungal properties
Ellagic acid, which has antioxidant and antidiabetes properties. Limited evidence also suggests it may have anticancer effects
Dietary fiber: 100 grams of camu camu powder contains just over 33 grams of fiber